Thursday, February 17, 2011

What will we do without Borders?

By now you've heard the news about Borders closing many of its stores. I'm always sad to hear a bookstore is closing and to hear a chain of bookstores is closing 200 of its stores is really sad. (Even my local indie Tattered Cover tweeted yesterday that they were concerned by the news, saying "The closing of any bricks and mortar store is a loss.")

For some black writers, this could deliver a devastating blow to their sales. A colleague says 33% of her sales came from Borders!

I'm happy to report that my friends at the Atlanta Buckhead Borders are still open for business. If you're in Atlanta, go over and buy some books from them! Several of the booksellers there are hand-selling titles by African American authors and we need them!

My colleague read in an industry article that half of the sales that would have happened at those stores are probably lost! Dear God, Borders shoppers, is that true?! Without a Borders to go, will you simply stop purchasing books?

I hope that's not true. If you live in a city that no longer has an indie or a Borders, I will you will support Barnes and Noble. And remember you can always support indie stores by purchasing books online at IndieBound. You can even buy e-books through indies now!

And, in addition to Amazon, you can buy books online through these bookstores and others. Also, there's a new online bookstore for African American books called For every book purchased through their site, they will give one away to a child in need around the world.

Many people are convinced that the African American fiction section of the bookstore is problematic for selling books by black authors. And yet Borders' AfAm section was popular enough that several black writer friends are afraid that the developments with Borders could mean a loss of as much as a third of their sales. And yet Borders is bankrupt. This raises some interesting questions about that book-selling model and about America. Is there such a thing as a novel that's meant only for a black audience? How would you begin to define such a novel? Does seg-book-ga-tion harm some authors and help others?

The Rejectionist recently raised these questions and more getting right to the heart of the matter: race and racism.

"Racism is fucking messy, and painful, and hard to deal with. It hurts. There aren't right answers. There is no one in charge, to solve the problem. But nothing's ever going to change until we go to that hard and honest place of really and truly engaging with one another (memo to white folks: "engaging" involves "listening" which involves "not talking"). Creating genuine community in an era of terminal-stage capitalism is no easy task, but we're gonna go out on a limb and say it is the most important task of all. You think it's just books? It's not just books, it's the whole world. This stuff matters."

As always, if you take a situation like trying to make money off of art, which is already complicated, and add in race, things get "fucking messy."

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. Anybody got any brilliant ideas? What does the bankruptcy of Borders mean to you?


ivanova said...

I've never been a fan of Borders because they are so anti-union, but I do admit that I feel a little sorry for them now. *All* brick and mortar bookstores are in big trouble, even the giants. It's great to hear about!

bookspersonally said...

Thanks so much for this interesting article- I had no idea Borders was such a significant portion of sales for African-American authors. I've enjoyed following your discussions on this issue here and on twitter, including reviewing(after the fact,as it always happens during school pickup time for me!)your recent & excellent #litchat discussion.

Dusky Literati said...

Borders was never really near me. Therefore, I tended to go to Barnes & Noble when I went to the chain stores. So, closing the one closest to me won't have any affect. The Barnes and Noble in this area has an African American Studies non-fiction section, Urban Lit section, and African American fiction is shelved among their literature section.

I will stop at the Afr-Am section but never the Urban Lit or even Literature section when shopping for Afr-Am authors. It's easier to go online or shop the tables rather than trying to guess whether you'll like a book from the spine.

Personally, I prefer a separate Afr-Am section because I strongly support Afr-Am authors. But I see having books integrated into the regular literature section from the author's point of views that it 'may' extend book sales and awareness for them.

Ages ago, I participated in a survey from B&N asking how Afr-Am books should be shelved (back when Afr-Am fiction was separate) and I suggested they keep the separate section but then shelve a couple in normal literature (but that probably causes too much work for them) - LOL. They ended up dumping the Afr-Am fiction section and integrating into regular literature. Also, I used to love Black History Month because bookstores would have wonderful displays AND discounts; not so much anymore. I did specifically go into B&N this month and you could tell the one table wasn't really designed by someone who really cared.

A question I never hear asked, if you shelve Afr-Am in the literature section, and if a reader picks up your book and looks at the cover, reads the blurb or jacket fly, will they still be inclined to buy it or just put it back. Just my opinion, that there are folks that are open to diverse reading of all kinds and will say "cool" and buy the book but there are many more that like to read "in a rut" (sorry best term I could think of for what I wanted to say).

Karen L. Simpson said...

Border is an Ann Arbor corporation. It was the product of two University of Michgan students and so for my town it is tramatic that Borders is on life support. We are losing one of our three stores in Ann Arbor but we kind of expected that. Borders has been home to my best writing groups and when I first started writing I had hoped to have my first book signing there.

Our local indepent bookstore is strong and the owner's view of Border is that they made incredible poor choices about which way to grow for years especially when it came to ebooks.

What I have learned as a writer looking at this is that as artist we have to adapt to technoloy or perish. And we can't have all our book eggs in one basket.

Blogger Assistant1 said...

Obviously I'm not overjoyed by the news. With a book coming out next month, the timing couldn't be worse.

With that said, I had mentioned to another writer that even though Borders is closing, the book business is really expanding in other retailers. Books are not just for brick and mortar bookstores anymore. Folks hold book signings in COSTCO and Sam's Club now. Go figure. And have you seen how many new book festivals are cropping up all over the place? Every time I turn around, there seems to be a new one. Opportunities for exposure seem to be expanding.

I've bought books from all of the following retailers over the past year or so. (I did this research a while ago when considering a book deal--not quite that nerdy lol).

B&N - 717 regular locations; 637 college locations
Walmart - 8500 stores
Target - 1743
Booksamillion - 200
Costco, BJs, and Sams Club - 1312 stores combined.

That's a lot of locations, even though the selection is limited. Perhaps they will expand with the closures. I dunno.

Publishers and authors will have to figure out how to best leverage these locations to maintain or hopefully increase sales. I have at least three of these stores within a three to five mile radius of me and they all sell books. Now, we'll need them to sell more.

Like I said, this isn't good for any of us, BUT I'm trying to stay least for now.

Toni Campbell said...

Great article, Carleen! And thanks for mentioning our Buckhead store! We need the business. It seems that once the news was announced that people have already decided that we are finished and have stopped shopping altogether.

doreen said...

I just read your post on Beth's blog and thought it was written beautifully.
Call me naive but I cannot understand why fiction cannot just be with fiction and so on. Yes I know I have always been called a dreamer...
I agree with Beth your covers are amazing:)